TMI ...... Zenatone?

Here's the latest offering in my continuing experiments in TMI guitars.

I don't know what to call this one but because it's a cross between a Zen On and a Guyatone so I went with Zenatone for the blog. I mean, does it really need a name?

This was an experiment in minimalism and economy. My TMI guitars that I've been building have all been experiments in making guitars unlike the ones I used to make in the late 90's/early 2000's which were "mostly" hand made in a more traditional sense of high quality timbers, all hand carved with mostly hand made hardware like vibratos, bridges and even knobs. They were very ... time consuming which is something I can't afford right now.

This one was a self imposed study in making the cheapest hand made guitar I could make, in both cost of materials and parts and in time. I set myself the goal of trying to make a "proper" guitar for under $200 and less than 10 hours. I don't really know why, I just wanted to see if I could do it. 

When I say "proper" guitar I mean that I could make a "guitar" for under $100 if I bolted an old neck to a bread board and stuck a $15 pickup in it, but, I wanted to make something in the vein of the "cheap Japanese guitars" from the sixties in that they were actually reasonably good guitars, played well enough and looked great but they were essentially entry level student models.

 

Because I'm a huge fan of Guyatone (our shop model will be a Guyatone 127) and I love and just sold one of my 180Ts I thought I'd just trace one and cut it out of scrap plywood I had lying around the workshop. I have no problem with ply guitars and depending on the quality of the ply, they can be VERY nice guitars. I found two pieces of 18mm that were big enough and glued them together to give me a nice 36mm thick guitar body.

I've talked about it many times before but I don't believe in most of the folklore and "rules" of guitar building. I made about 10 guitars before I read a single thing about guitar building and then went .... "WHAT, why can't I do it that way?" 

 

So, with the body glued and cut I moved onto the neck. I have been buying my TMI necks from overseas as rough finished items and doing the final shaping, sanding and finishing here as it saves me time and allows me to make some of these. I worked out that one of these would have probably pushed me over the self imposed limit so I looked online and found a "cheap" (I mean cheap) neck with a paddle headstock and bought it thinking if it turns up and is unusable, I'll join a cricket club. 

It turned up and was .... usable in the loose version of the word. In hindsight I probably spent more time correcting this neck which if I was charging proper money for would have made it unrealistic. Having said that, I have bought samples of cheap necks online that with a little work can work really well if you're doing projects like this.

With the neck sorted I made a couple of pickups for it. Again, I looked online and bought some really cheap plastic bobbins, covers, ceramic bar magnets and wire. Again, in hindsight I probably should have just used my regular wire as the cheap wire was cheaper but MUCH harder to wind, but then, that's what this whole project was about.

The pickups are T-90's based on the Guyatone pickup using bar ceramic magnets and adjustable pole pieces. I wound these to 10K and 12.5K with #44 and .... I actually love them. I will make more of these with my good wire and see how they sound. 

The bridge and tailpiece are cheap items available online and are essentially copies of the basic cheap Japanese units with a pressed steel tailpiece/cover and non adjustable bar bridge and base. They have a charm and sound all their own.

I put a couple of coats of paint straight onto the ply body. I bought a 4L tin of Monza Red from an auto shop on special years ago and I've only really used it to mix colours so i thought I'll just spray it with that to keep the cost down. It's also got a couple of coats of clear over the top but I really didn't spend a lot of time on the finish due to my time restraints. The finish turned out alright and actually looks good in pics. That's one of the great things about acrylic lacquer.

The neck got a couple of coats of clear and it was ready to assemble. The tuners are cheap tuners available online and are actually quite good. I make my own string hold down bars out of stainless rod. 

I had never intended to use the Guyatone 180 scratchplate and had thought it would look cool with one of those great Zen On wavy plates. I drew the shape on the bare body before painting it and it looked good and I could cut it out of scrap piece of material I had in the workshop. 

I wanted to use a 3 way rotary switch for the pickup selector and they're not dear so I wired up one of those to cheap 500K pots, a cheap cap and good output jack. 

This project was a lot of fun and reinforced my long held belief that a guitar assembled from cheap parts, with care, love and experience can actually be a good guitar. Remember, I wasn't trying to make a A'aquisto guitar here. I have made/assembled guitars for friends out of the cheapest parts around that have recorded gold albums in world class studios, with world class produces and toured the world. 

To me, if you want to make a guitar don't get caught up in all the "rules" that are abundant and almost compulsory as far as many are concerned. You can literally make a solid body (or semi solid) electric guitar out of ANYTHING that will take the string tension. If they made high tensile cheesecake you could make one out of that. There is no such thing as "tone wood" .... it's WOOD. The Tele was a piece of furniture in the shape of guitar. Dan Armstrongs sound amazing. Wandres sound amazing. Plywood can sound GREAT if everything else is up to the task. The only rule (and this one's not negotiable really) is put your frets in the right place, and then put your bridge in the right place in relation to them. Everything else is open to interpretation. 

 

Sometimes it's the lack of high quality (for want of a better term) that makes things great. A mistake or difference that brings a real positive difference to the equation. Gold foil pickups, Danelectros/Silvertones, early amps (both valve and solid state), cheap drum machines, so many of my favourite records were recorded using "cheap" gear. 

This guitar cost $146 (Aus) and took approx 10 hours of work. It'll be in the shop from this Sunday for people to try out. 

Oct 25 2019 Written By: Tim Brennan